CLEVELAND, Ohio (WJW/AP) – NASA launched a spacecraft Tuesday night on a mission to smash into an asteroid and test whether it would be possible to knock a speeding space rock off course if one were to threaten Earth.
The DART spacecraft, short for Double Asteroid Redirection Test, lifted off from Vandenberg Space Force Base atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket in a $330 million project with echoes of the Bruce Willis movie “Armageddon.”
If all goes well, the boxy, 1,200-pound (540-kilogram) craft will slam head-on into Dimorphos, an asteroid 525 feet (160 meters) across, at 15,000 mph (24,139 kph) next September.
“This isn’t going to destroy the asteroid. It’s just going to give it a small nudge,” said mission official Nancy Chabot of Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory, which is managing the project.
NASA’s Glenn Research Center in Cleveland has three connections to the mission, which include a solar-powered ion propulsion system, solar “wings” and other solar technology.
Dimorphos orbits a much larger asteroid called Didymos.
The pair are not a danger to Earth.
The goal is a crash that will slow down Dimorphos and make it falls closer toward Didymos, which will change the orbit.
They’re looking for an orbit change of 73 seconds.
That would then be technology that could help knock an asteroid off course as it heads for Earth before it ever gets close.
Scientists constantly search for asteroids and plot their courses to determine whether they could hit the planet.
“Although there isn’t a currently known asteroid that’s on an impact course with the Earth, we do know that there is a large population of near-Earth asteroids out there,” said Lindley Johnson, planetary defense officer at NASA. “The key to planetary defense is finding them well before they are an impact threat.”
DART will take 10 months to reach the asteroid pair. The collision will occur about 6.8 million miles (11 million kilometers) from Earth.
DART will stream video until it is destroyed on impact. Three minutes later, the trailing craft will make images of the impact site and material that is ejected.